How to Find the Best Whole Life Insurance Policy

To find the right coverage amount when you’re buying whole life insurance, decide what you want the policy to accomplish.
Insurance, Life Insurance
Find the Best Whole Life Insurance

Whole life insurance is a good policy to buy if you:

  • Need coverage that lasts for your entire life
  • Want the payments to stay the same (called level premiums)
  • Want a guaranteed return on the cash value that builds up within the policy

Before you buy, ask a financial advisor if you need whole life insurance, rather than another type of permanent insurance or a term life policy. Whole life insurance fits the bill for some people, but term life insurance is sufficient for many families. Consult a fee-only advisor, if possible. These advisors don’t make commissions from sales, so they can recommend financial products objectively.

Assuming whole life insurance is right for you, here’s a list of the biggest sellers and some tips on finding a good policy.

Largest sellers of whole life insurance

Here’s an overview of the biggest sellers of whole life insurance, listed in alphabetical order.

CompanyWhole life insurance optionsFind out more
Source: LIMRA, based on 2015 annualized premium whole life insurance sales
Guardian Life Insurance
  • On some policies, a portion of the cash value can be linked to performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500
  • Choice of fixed or variable interest rates on loans taken out on policies’ 10th anniversaries
  • Potential to earn dividends


Guardian Life review
MassMutual
  • Guaranteed acceptance life insurance (no medical exam) of $2,000 to $25,000 for ages 50 to 75
  • Larger whole life insurance policies are available with a medical exam
  • Potential to earn dividends



MassMutual review
MetLifeMetLife plans to separate into two companies. MetLife will sell life insurance and other benefits through employers. The other company, Brighthouse Financial, will sell life insurance and annuities to individuals. The first step in the separation transaction is expected in the first half of 2017.

MetLife review
Mutual of Omaha
  • Three varieties of whole life insurance with different amounts and features
  • No medical exam required
  • Amounts from $3,000 to $50,000, depending on policy type
  • Children’s whole life insurance available


Mutual of Omaha review
New York Life
  • Two types of whole life offered: a standard policy and a custom whole life policy, designed to build cash value faster
  • Potential to earn dividends


New York Life review
Northwestern Mutual
  • Standard whole life policies and CompLife, which combines whole life and term life insurance
  • Three options for paying premiums: up to age 65, up to age 90, or over periods of 10 to 30 years
  • Potential to earn dividends


Northwestern Mutual review
Ohio National Life Insurance Company
  • Four whole life insurance choices with different premium-payment lengths
  • Potential to earn dividends
State Farm Life
  • Options for limited premium payments (10 to 20 years) and a single-payment policy
  • Final expense policy for $10,000 for ages 50 to 80
  • Potential to earn dividends


State Farm review

Transamerica
  • Amounts from $2,000 to $50,000
  • Three types of final expense policies


Transamerica review

Choose the right amount of coverage

To find the right coverage amount when you’re buying whole life insurance, decide what you want the policy to accomplish. A relatively small policy — $10,000, for example — may pay for a funeral. You will need a larger policy if you have other priorities, such as funding a trust for a child with special needs.

Not all sellers of whole life offer policies in small amounts of coverage, and those that market small policies don’t always sell large ones.

» MORE: How much life insurance do you need?

Understand the different approval processes

There are three main types of approval processes:

  1. Simplified issue: You answer some health questions but you don’t have to take a medical exam.

2. Guaranteed issue: There are no health questions or medical exam and you’ll be accepted.

These options are worth considering if you’ve been turned down for standard life insurance due to health problems — but beware of the downsides. The death benefits offered are relatively small, and the costs per $1,000 of coverage are higher than for policies that require a medical exam. In addition, these policies don’t pay the full death benefit if you die within the first few years of coverage.

3. Fully underwritten: This generally involves filling out a lengthy application and taking a life insurance medical exam. Even if you have some health issues, you can generally find the best price by applying for a fully underwritten policy.

Look at the rate of return on cash value

Whole life insurance policies feature a “cash value” savings account. A portion of your premium is invested in the account, which typically grows slowly on a tax-deferred basis. You can borrow against the cash value, use it to buy more coverage or surrender the policy for the cash. (The death benefit is reduced if you don’t repay a loan, and it disappears if you surrender the policy.)

Whole life insurance policies guarantee a minimum growth rate on the cash value.

Whole life insurance policies guarantee a minimum growth rate on the cash value. Some policies can perform even better if they earn dividends, which are portions of the insurer’s financial surplus. Dividends generally aren’t guaranteed, but they’re worth taking into account when you compare policies.

Life insurance companies provide illustrations of how each policy’s cash value could perform. Always ask which parts of the illustration are guaranteed. For example, an insurer may give cash value projections based on the payment of dividends, which aren’t guaranteed.

Examine riders

Riders are coverage features you can add to your policy, usually for an extra cost. Examples include a chronic illness rider, which lets you access some of the death benefit if you have a serious illness, and a “disability waiver of premium” rider, which lets you skip payments if you become disabled. Available types and costs of riders vary by insurance company. Make sure your policy has the riders you want.

Check the insurer’s financial strength rating

Look up the financial strength rating of each insurer you’re considering. You can find these through rating firms, such as A.M. Best. Financial strength is important because a strong company has a better chance of being around decades from now to pay claims. Any company with an A.M. Best rating of B+ or higher is a good choice; companies rated B and below are more vulnerable, in A.M. Best’s opinion.

All of the largest life insurance companies, for example, have solid financial strength ratings.

Research the insurer’s reputation for customer service

You can look up an insurer’s complaint ratio score on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website. The ratio is based on the number of complaints filed against the insurance company with state regulators and is adjusted for market share. The national median is 1, so a score higher than 1 means the company received a larger number of complaints for its size.

Compare prices

Get life insurance quotes for the same amount of coverage from several insurers to compare prices. You may find that rates for whole life insurance vary widely.

About the author